Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now
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|Legal status||Active; defunct (US)|
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is an international collection of autonomous community-based organizations that advocated for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues. They, along with a number of other community unions, are affiliated under ACORN International.
In the US, ACORN was composed of a number of legally distinct nonprofit entities and affiliates including a nationwide umbrella organization established as a 501(c)(4) that performed lobbying; local chapters established as 501(c)(3) nonpartisan charities; and the national nonprofit and nonstock organization, ACORN Housing Corporation. ACORN's priorities included: better housing and wages for the poor, more community development investment from banks and governments, better public schools, labor-oriented causes and social justice issues. ACORN pursued these goals through demonstration, negotiation, lobbying for legislation, and voter participation.
Unlike in the US, ACORN groups in other countries have little organisational funding. Under the ACORN model, most members are volunteers. Employed union organisers come from those working in local ACORN campaigns rather than from existing organisations and are paid a low wage. The union works on local and national level campaigns.
Founded in 1970 by Wade Rathke and Gary Delgado, at its peak ACORN had over 500,000 members and more than 1,200 neighborhood chapters in over 100 cities across the U.S. as well as groups in other countries. In 2004, ACORN International was created to aid the spread of ACORN's model to other countries. For example, there has been or currently is an ACORN presence in Argentina, Canada, Mexico, Peru and the UK, with affiliate groups in Scotland and France.
In the US, ACORN suffered a damaging nationwide controversy in the fall of 2009 after James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles secretly made, edited and released videos of interactions with low-level ACORN personnel in several of their offices, leading to several investigations by state officials that concluded the videos were inaccurately portraying the personnel as encouraging criminal behavior. The organization didn't recover in the US and dissolved, with ACORN members and organizers forming new organizations. ACORN groups outside of the US continued unaffected. ACORN, under ACORN International, still works within the US through its Home Savers Campaign, for example.
Issues and actions
Predatory lending and affordable housing
ACORN investigated complaints against companies accused of predatory lending practices. ACORN also worked to support strict state laws against predatory practices, organized against foreclosure rescue scams, and steered borrowers toward loan counseling; Following a three-year campaign, Household International (now owned by HSBC Holdings and renamed HSBC Finance Corporation), one of the largest subprime lenders in the country, and ACORN announced on November 25, 2003 a proposed settlement of a 2002 national class-action lawsuit brought by ACORN. The settlement created a $72 million foreclosure avoidance program to provide relief to household borrowers who were at risk of losing their homes. The settlement came on the heels of an earlier $484 million settlement between Household, Attorneys General, and bank regulators from all 50 U.S. states.
ACORN and its affiliates advocated for affordable housing by urging the development, rehabilitation and establishment of housing trust funds at the local, state, and federal levels. The group also pushed for enforcement of affordable-housing requirements for developers and promoted programs to help homeowners repair their homes and organize tenant demands. An ACORN official voiced support for a proposal Hillary Clinton made during the 2008 presidential primary election to create a federal fund for distressed homeowners.
Hurricane Katrina relief
ACORN members across the country, particularly in the Gulf region, organized fund-raising and organizing drives to ensure that victims of Hurricane Katrina received assistance and will be able to return to affected areas. ACORN's home clean-out demonstration program has gutted and rebuilt over 1,850 homes with the help of volunteers. The ACORN Katrina Survivors Association formed in the aftermath of the storm is the first nationwide organization for Katrina survivors and has been working for equitable treatment for victims. Displaced citizens were bused into the city for the New Orleans primary and general elections. By October 2007, ACORN said its Housing Services had helped more than 2,000 homeowners affected by the storm. The non-profit was officially working with the city on reconstruction.
ACORN supported education reform, usually in the form of organizing neighborhood groups and "community" or "ACORN schools". In Chicago, ACORN has advocated for a certified teacher to be in every classroom. In California, ACORN has documented the need for textbooks and school repairs. ACORN works with teachers unions to gain funding for school construction and more funding for schools. ACORN also supports school reform and the "creation of alternative public schools" such as charter schools. ACORN opposed the privatization of some NYC schools, favoring its own Charter School plan. The ACORN model for schools emphasizes small classes, parent involvement, qualified teachers and "community-oriented curricula".
In addition to conducting voter registration drives, ACORN worked to remove obstacles to voter registration. In 2006, it brought a lawsuit in federal court in Ohio against the Ohio Secretary of State, at that time Ken Blackwell, and the Director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, alleging that, during the period that included the 2004 United States election voting controversies, the defendants had committed multiple violations of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The district court dismissed the case, but that decision was reversed in 2008 by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The parties agreed to a settlement, under which the defendants agreed to implement several measures to facilitate registration of low-income voters to bring the state into compliance with the National Voting Rights Act.
In 2006, ACORN intervened on behalf of Jersey City, New Jersey, in a lawsuit brought against the city challenging a local ordinance that limited individuals' handgun purchases to one gun a month. The Hudson County Superior Court struck down the ordinance on the grounds that it violated the New Jersey Constitution's Equal Protection clause, and a state statute prohibiting towns and municipalities from enacting firearms legislation. On September 29, 2008, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division denied ACORN's appeal of the Hudson County Superior Court's decision striking down Jersey City's ordinance.
Home Defender Program
In 2009, ACORN advocated allowing homeowners delinquent in their mortgage payments to remain in their homes pending a government solution to the housing foreclosure crisis. ACORN introduced a program called the Home Defender Program, intended to mobilize people to congregate at homes faced with foreclosure to "defend a family's right to stay in their homes." One ACORN Web page advocated civil disobedience against foreclosure evictions stating that people in foreclosed homes should refuse to leave, and in some cases, move back in.
During the 2008 election season, ACORN gathered over 1.3 million voter registration forms in 21 states. Project Vote estimated that 400,000 registrations collected by ACORN were ultimately rejected, the vast majority for being duplicate registrations submitted by citizens. Project Vote estimated that only a few percent of registrations were fraudulent, based on past years and samples from some drives in 2008. Project Vote estimated that 450,000 of the registrations collected by ACORN represented first-time voters, while the remainder were address changes submitted by citizens updating their addresses.
ACORN has fired employees for fraudulent registration practices and turned them over to authorities. Of 26,513 registrations submitted by ACORN over a nine-month period in San Diego County, California, 4,655 were initially flagged, but 2,806 of those were later validated. County officials said this resulted in a 7% error rate by ACORN, compared to usually less than 5% for voter drives by other organizations.
In a 2007 case in Washington state, in which seven temporary employees of ACORN were charged with submitting fraudulent voter registrations, ACORN agreed to pay King County $25,000 for its investigative costs and acknowledged that the national organization could be subject to criminal prosecution if fraud occurred. In May 2009, six ACORN employees in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to charges of a combined total of 51 counts of forgery and other violations while registering voters during the 2008 election cycle.
In plea deals in a 2009 Las Vegas case, former ACORN field director Amy Busefink and ACORN official Christopher Edwards pleaded guilty to "conspiracy to commit the crime of compensation for registration of voters," in connection with a quota system for paid registration staff. Edwards was sentenced to a year's probation and agreed to testify for prosecutors in charges against ACORN and against Busefink. Busefink appealed her case to the Nevada Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the statute. In April 2011, ACORN entered a guilty plea to one count of felony compensation for registration of voters, for which they were fined $5000, but did not concede that the law was constitutional.
ACORN International was created in 2004 as an offshoot of ACORN to aid the spread of ACORN's model to other countries, including Argentina, Canada, Mexico, and Peru. The first ACORN branch in the UK opened in Bristol in 2014 by three people, two of whom were graduates of the Community Organisers programme.
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The leadership and staff that were working with ACORN in California made the decision to break off from ACORN and launch a new organization here in California called Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to ACORN.|
- ACORN International - with information about ACORN branches in various countries